Pole Walking Proves Popular As Country Discovers Benefits Of Walking

'I greatly admire the work that the Local Sports Partnerships are delivering to help people of all ages develop and maintain an active lifestyle' By Frank Greally

by Gazette Reporter
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Research into participation in physical activity clearly shows walking to be by far the most popular form of exercise among Irish adults – especially during the Covid-19 pandemic couple of years, when adult weekly participation reached an amazing 80% of the population. 

This has been a significant and welcome development for both the physical and mental health of many thousands of people who are now reaping the benefits that regular walking delivers. 

One positive thing about the pandemic was that it slowed down the pace that many of us were setting for ourselves in our daily lives. It forced us to pause, take stock and make some long-needed adjustments such as taking time to walk and observe nature in parks, trails and woodlands.

In recent times, a new brand of walking which involves the use of Nordic and Activator poles has been fast gaining popularity throughout the country.

County Mayo native Frank Fahey has been a pioneer and leading exponent of fitness walking in Ireland for over two decades and a driving force behind Nordic and Activator Pole Walking.

Frank taught physical education for ten years, before taking up a post as National Sport for All Officer with the then Irish Sports Council (now Sport Ireland)  and then two decades ago he began working as an independent consultant in physical recreation and active living.

After observing the rapid increase in the number of people walking for fitness and wellness, he launched his company FitWalk Ireland with a mission to promote fitness walking and to help and encourage people to add value and variety to their regular walking.

“From the start, my focus through FitWalk Ireland has been the promotion of functional fitness through walking,” Frank said. “Functional fitness is what’s required to manage the physical challenges and demands of daily life and the key components are mobility (of the joints), aerobic fitness (of the heart and lungs); and strength (in key muscle groups). If we are advancing in years, we also need to include balance, which involves the brain. My recommendation for adult fitness walkers are: to aim for somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 steps a day – some of which should be aerobic in nature; raise heart rate and breathing and incorporate activities to improve or maintain, mobility, strength and balance.

“Normal walking will certainly accumulate steps and bring some improvements in physical  terms. However, in order to optimize aerobic fitness (heart and lungs)), we need a higher level of intensity. Normal walking does not improve mobility, strength or balance to any great extent.

“In a fitness walk there should be good posture, active engagement of the arms and upper body, better propulsion from the feet, and improved stride pattern and gait. This will considerably improve aerobic fitness (burning more calories) and should also incorporate activities to improve mobility, strength and balance. 

“I suggest that many fitness walkers need to ‘change up a gear’ and make their walk more purposeful. That doesn’t mean walking faster; often it’s a matter of using a different walking technique like power-walking or stride-walking.”

It’s only in recent times that Frank Fahey has begun to see an explosion of interest in Pole Walking – Nordic and Activator Poles.

For many years now, Frank has been a lone crusader for fitness walking – covering the entire country and working closely with the Local Sports Partnerships and communities. “There’s not a county that I have not visited and I greatly admire the work that the Local Sports Partnerships are delivering to help people of all ages develop and maintain an active lifestyle,” he said.

“It’s great to see the recent explosion of interest in regular walking as a means of keeping fit and active. The Nordic and Activator Poles are now adding a new dimension to walking for many and it’s part of my mission to continue to promote this extension of fitness walking to the wider population.”

Why Pole Walking?

A wide and growing body of research suggests that regular use of walking poles can : improve posture and walking gait – reduce joint impact – especially ankles, knees. and hips; develop the range of motion of the shoulders and the spine and increase muscle strength in the upper body – especially arms and core. Use of activator poles can also enhance stability and reduce the fear of falling.

There has especially been a huge and sustained interest in the take-up of Activator Poles in Ireland over the past three years and a growing interest among adults and people with balance concerns or mobility issues. 

In order to promote the use and benefits of the poles, Frank Fahey, through his FitWalk Ireland company, partners with numerous Local Sports Partnerships around the country, where they train ‘FitSTICKS’ Trainers to deliver community-based programs introducing people of all ages to the special technique and various functional fitness exercises that can be achieved with Activator Poles. The programmes are typically 5-6 weeks in duration, delivered either indoors or outdoors, and very sociable too.

“Feedback from particiapnts in the Activator Programmes has been hugely positive , ” Frank Fahey said. “I am particularly happy with reports that the poles have given a new impetus and hope to people with health issues and disabilities.”

Here’s a short guide to Nordic and Activator Poles

Nordic Poles

Nordic walking originated in Finland and is now popular with people all over the world as a simple-yet-effective form of exercise. The poles incorporate special straps and are held at an angle as you walk. The technique requires that the poles are planted into the ground, and a push is applied with straight arms which results in the body being propelled forward. Nordic walking is an ideal progression for walkers wishing to gain more fitness benefits from their walking program. A short tutorial can have you quickly pushing forward with purpose in a new direction.

Activator Poles

Activator Poles are an adaptation of Nordic Poles and have been developed by therapists in Canada to cater for people who have balance concerns or mobility issues, but want to walk for fitness. The Activator Poles are used in a forward position, unlike Nordic Poles which trail behind and propel the walker forward. This forward position gives stability, support and confidence to  people worried about their balance (or falling) and enables them to get up and going again with renewed purpose and enthusiasm. 

Walking enthusiasts will know that Nordic Walking trails are a common feature of the walking infrastructure in many parts of Europe including Finland, Germany Austria,Italy and Fran

The development of FitSTICKS Trails is the latest development in FitWalk Ireland’s efforts to promote Pole Walking. They will work with local authorities, Local Sports Partnerships Health Organisations and Community Development Bodies to establish a network of FitSTICKS Trails to enable pole users to undertake short fitness walking sessions comprising of Warp-Up and Cool-Down phases displayed on well appointed notice boards. In addition to the newly launched Fit Sticks Trail in Portarlington, further trails are planned for Ballinrobe in Mayo and Naas in Kildare.

There is a lot of activity ongoing at Fitwalk Ireland- all positive and purposeful.

Further information from: [email protected]

Suggested Panels

Breast Cancer

There is much research to suggest that walking with poles helps breast cancer survivors reduce the impairments on shoulder function caused by surgery. The technique improves range of motion and enables users to better perform activities of daily living, regain an independent lifestyle and improve quality of life.

Just recently, the East Galway and Midlands Cancer Support Centre commenced a pilot study with Athlone Institute of Technology to assess the effectiveness of an Activator Poles Programme on the physical and psychosocial health of individuals living with and beyond cancer.


Using walking poles

–         reduces pressure and impact on the joints of the lower body

–         assists with ascending and descending steps and inclines

The handles of Activator Poles are designed to reduce the need for a tight grip.

In both Kildare and Kerry, members of the local branches of Arthritis Ireland have been  polewalking for over a decade and reporting great success. 

Hip / Knee Surgery

Actvator Poles have been instrumental in assisting people in recovering from hip or knee surgery and some surgeons at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry, Dublin now prescribe walking with activator poles, encouraging specific exercises with the poles as part of post-surgery rehabilitation.

Evidence suggests that poles reduce the impact on knee and hip joints, improve pain management, and improve posture, balance and stability.

Keep in touch witjh YOUR Fitness Walking Stories- [email protected] 

Contact Fitwalk Ireland at: [email protected]

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